Rare plant of the month: March 2017

Welcome to the first of our new series of posts that will introduce you to some of the wonderful and intriguing rare plants that have been registered into the Plant Guardian scheme by Plant Heritage members. While the main aim of the scheme is to record the rare plants we have in our gardens, hopefully for them to become more widely grown and therefore better protected for the future, we have to admit that this will never be possible for every plant. However we can learn more about these plants and their origins.

The Plant Guardian scheme is by definition the perfect forum to appreciate how our garden plants are linked irrevocably to British gardens and gardeners. When Joseph Banks sailed home from Botany Bay in 1770, bringing with him extraordinary plants from the new world, who then could have imagined that some would still be growing in gardens in Britain nearly 250 years later.

Many are rarely grown here and one of these is Lambertia formosa.

Image: Lambertia formosa, mountain devil. © Ben Ram

Image: Lambertia formosa, mountain devil. © Ben Ram

Registered by Plant Guardian Robbie Blackhall-Miles, Lambertia formosa – the ‘Mountain Devil’ is an evergreen shrub in the Proteaceae family and a native of New South Wales, Australia. I t is the only species (of 11 in the genus) endemic to south eastern Australia. A small or medium shrub, with stiff sharply tipped, linear-shaped leaves, the red tubular-shaped flowers appear at the ends of the branches in clusters, flowering during the winter. The flowers contain nectar and are popular with honey eating birds and it is sometimes known as the ‘honey flower’. However it is the strange seed pods that develop devil-like horns which give it the name ‘Mountain Devil’.

Robbie tells us ‘Lambertia formosa has a very interesting history in UK cultivation. The Mountain Devil, was originally collected by Sir Joseph Banks (founder of the Royal Horticultural Society) in Botany Bay in 1770, and was one of the earliest introductions of Australian plants to cultivation in the UK, introduced by Lee and Kennedy’s nursery in Hammersmith. It first flowered not far from Hampton court in Stockwell in 1798’.

When it was first recorded it was originally thought to be a different plant altogether – Brabejum (a South African plant also in the Proteaceae family described far earlier in 1737), It would seem that when the plant flowered at Lee and Kennedy’s nursery (in 1798), botanist James Edward Smith recognised the new genus, naming it in recognition for his friend and fellow of the Linnaean Society the botanist Aylmer Lambert.

Listed in the International Plant Names Index (IPNI)

 

Proteaceae Lambertia formosa Sm. Trans. Linn. Soc. London 4: 223. 1798 [24 May 1798]

 

Sm. is an abbreviation which denotes the author of a botanical name, it is followed here by the official abbreviation for: Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, Botany 4 1798

The original herbarium specimen that Joseph Banks brought back from Botany Bay  is held in the Banks Collection at Natural History Museum.

Robbie with the original Joseph Banks specimen (BM000947188) in the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum © Robbie Blackhall-Miles Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Robbie with the original Joseph Banks specimen (BM000947188) in the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum © Robbie Blackhall-Miles Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen in the Herbarium of the Natural History Museum ©JSTOR www.jstor.org

The original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen in the Herbarium of the Natural History Museum ©JSTOR http://www.jstor.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although Lambertia is not under threat in SE Australia, it is rarely grown in the UK, and having an example of a plant first sold commercially in 1798, registered with Plant Guardians, and being able to link it with the original 1770 Joseph Banks specimen brought from Botany Bay (and safely stored in the Natural History Museum), gives us a wonderful example of how deep the heritage of our garden plants can go.

Lambertia formosa will be shown in a display at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show under the ‘Plant Guardians’ scheme, as part of an exhibit highlighting the unique diversity of antipodean plants from the many National Plant Collections held by members of the Australasian Plant Society. Robbie is holder of the National Collection of Banksia (South East Australian spp.)

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